We tend to think of the book of Genesis as the start of the story. It’s the first of the 66 books that make up our modern Bible. It always has been, even before the New Testament was written. It starts, “In the beginning”. It seems a bit of a no-brainer.
Though it does tell us the start of the story, we often forget that, though (no doubt) many of these stories had been passed down for generations, they were gathered together in one book at a particular time in the history of God’s People, Israel.
It was at the very start of their story as a nation: God gathered Israel at Mount Sinai and gave them the Law, through Moses. The first five books of the Bible (the “Pentateuch”: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy) are called Torah by Jewish people, and commonly, “The books of Law” by Christians.
They’ve been described as, the “Constitution” of Israel: These books, especially Genesis, tell God’s People who they are, and who He is.
However, we mustn’t forget the context of when it was He told them all this: It was at the start of the nation. It was at the point where they ceased to be simply a people group, and became, officially, God’s People. It was at a point where they had been living in Egypt for hundreds of years.
It was at a point where they had just been freed from generations of slavery and oppression: They didn’t understand what freedom looked like. They didn’t know what a good king was. Most significantly, their understanding of the world – an understanding of science and religion that wasn’t separate, but a unified, holistic worldview – was skewed by the pagan context out of which they had been called.
Genesis was given right at the start of Israel as a nation. Through their descent from the 12 tribes of Israel, they were Israelites, but they didn’t know what that meant. They didn’t know why they were supposed to be any different to the people around them, or why they weren’t supposed to relate to their God the way the other religions around them related to theirs.
Much, then, of the book of Genesis is what you could call “Damage Repair”: It corrects pre-existing misunderstandings of the way the World is. Using ideas, imagery and stories, many of which were already familiar to them, God is fixing the way Israel (and us!) should see Heaven & Earth.
Genesis sets up an understanding of reality which is key to the proper interpretation of every book of the Bible which comes after it. It’s too important to not take seriously. In it, we see promises made that weren’t fulfilled until Jesus died on the Cross. Some promises made in it have yet to be completed – but by understanding them and the context in which they were given, we can better understand the trajectory which God has set for the World He made.
Who am I? Why is the world the way it is? Why do people die? Doesn’t God care? What does it mean to be human? Where did the world come from?
Where’s it all heading?
Where did it all go wrong?
Genesis 1-11 has the answers.